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Fantasia 2019 Dispatch: Shelagh McLeod’s ‘Astronaut,’ and Ok-seop Yi’s ‘Maggie’


It’s very difficult to pass up a drama starring Richard Dreyfus who longs for outer space, and the secrets it holds. His name alone can easily bring in audiences to the theatre.

Astronaut is Shelagh McLeod’s debut feature film, and it has all the ingredients for a fantastic film. It’s a movie with a moderate budget, starring an aging and veteran actor and his desire to follow his dreams. One of the tamer movies at Fantasia, Astronaut feels a lot more like a typical Hollywood movie.

Richard Dreyfus shines in Astronaut

Angus (Richard Dreyfus) is moving out of his house and into a nursing home, in between the move he stays with his daughter, her husband, and their precocious 10-year-old son. While his transition is difficult, it just adds a little extra strain on the family. His grandson is simply in awe of his grandfather, and his telescope. They both admire the starlit sky and a comet that’s passing through. Though his body is failing, his mind is still sharp despite the rare slip-ups. His dream was to be an astronaut but pursued a more grounded path pursuing civil engineering and geology. While his family decides what to do with him, a billionaire industrial futurist is planning the very first commercial space flight. He wants to be the first person to accomplish this and is offering anyone between the ages of 18 and 65 a chance to accompany him aboard. Even though he is well beyond the age range, it doesn’t stop him and his grandson from fudging the numbers to give him a chance to explore the stars.

Astronaut is very by the book with the occasional twist and turns and clichéd in all the right and wrong ways. It’s predictable and also a heartwarming piece where every actor gives it their all. Obvious praise goes to Richard Dreyfus who convincingly portrays an aging talent with the right amount of hope and heart to not distance the audience. Angus is very well developed and conveys courage, fear, and doubt in believable scenarios without coming off too cheesy. Though the movie is not very memorable, it doesn’t have any major flaws either. It remains in this phantom zone of safe Fantasia movies, where it may not stand out as a mega-hit of the festival, but at least it won’t be remembered for being poorly executed. (David Harris)


Maggie, to make an easy joke, starts with a bang when a couple makes love in a hospital X-ray machine. An unknown party turns on the machine, leading to a scandalous X-ray image that makes the rounds among the staff. You’d think an incident this peculiar would be the inciting incident of the film, but in the long run, it’s a footnote at best. The X-ray hijinks are just one of the many odd tales that make up South Korean filmmaker Ok-seop Yi’s debut feature, a fun but uneven collection of vignettes mostly focused on a nurse and her layabout boyfriend.

Maggie isn’t a film that’s big on narrative thrust, but instead drifts lazily from one small narrative to another. In one tale, a lost ring leads to mistrust among young men tasked with mending a spate of sinkholes. In another, the only two staff at a hospital to arrive at work grow mistrustful of their supposedly sick colleagues. And all of this, incidentally, is narrated by the titular Maggie, a carp kept in the hospital. There is quirk about, and much of it.

Maggie drifts lazily from one scene to the next

One central theme runs through it all: trust or lack thereof. At its core, Maggie is about trust and suspicion, with characters either concealing a secret or harboring secret suspicions about their friends and co-workers. This commitment to theming is ambitious and helps make up for the films often meandering focus, but things nearly fall to ruin when Maggie graduates from fairly low-stakes hijinks to much more serious subject matter in the second half. 

It’s extremely hard to talk about certain subjects, the looming spectre of domestic abuse in this case, and still present yourself as a lighthearted, whimsical comedy. Maggie tries, and bungles in the attempt, leading to an awkward and tonally frustrating second half. There’s a critical balance to tackling intense subject matter with a lighter air, and Maggie doesn’t find it. This also implies a greater sense of urgency to the plot than had been the case previously, but if anything the pacing slows even further, making the second half more frustrating and tedious to get through.

This problem doesn’t necessarily make the film bad. Much of what’s on display is still fun and charming, carried effectively on the shoulders of its young leads. But the second half, with its tonal problem and more awkward pacing, brings the film down considerably. (Thomas O’Connor)


The Fantasia Film Festival runs July 11 – August 1. Visit the official website for more information

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